Protests Reignite as America Remains Divided

James discusses the Black Lives Matter protests.

Throughout 2020, American citizens have taken to the streets in order to make their voices heard. Angered by their nation’s inherent and systematic inequalities, Black Lives Matter protesters have ensured that their cause has been front and centre of the United States’ political landscape. Unfortunately, their efforts are yet to reap significant rewards, as little tangible progress has been made under Trump’s regime since the unlawful killing of George Floyd. 

In fact, social tensions have flared up once more following the shooting of another black American, Jacob Blake. An official report of the events leading up to the shooting is yet to be released, but Wisconsin attorney-general Josh Kaul says that officers were called to the location after a woman reported that “her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises”. As reported by the BBC, it later became clear that there was an active arrest warrant against Blake, relating to accusations of sexual assault, trespassing, domestic abuse and disorderly conduct.

However, according to eye-witnesses, Blake had not been acting maliciously prior to being shot by police, but trying to intervene in a domestic dispute between two women over a scratched car (Washington Post). When police arrived and were pointed towards Blake, reports suggest that the police immediately tried to detain Blake with tasers, but were unsuccessful. In video footage caught by a local resident, Blake is then seen to be resisting arrest by walking away from the police in order to enter the driver side door of his SUV. It was at this point that Officer Rusten Sheskey fired seven bullets into Blake’s lower back at close range. 

When interviewed by the AP news agency, Raysean White – the man behind the camera – claims that he heard officers shout, “Drop the knife!” before firing, but also claims that he did not see a knife in Blake’s hands. Nevertheless, attorney-general Kaul mentions in his statement that officers did in fact retrieve a knife from the driver-side footwell of Blake’s SUV. Blake’s lawyers, meanwhile, argue that at the time of the shooting he was simply attempting to “de-escalate a domestic incident” and was not an aggressor.  

The officers involved have been placed on administrative leave, however they may face further action depending upon the results of an investigation which is already underway. Fortunately, Jacob Blake did not succumb to his injuries after receiving prompt medical treatment, though his family report that he is currently in a state of paralysis below the waist. 

In response to the shooting, protestors took to the streets once more, not only in Wisconsin, but across the nation. As these demonstrations began to spiral into riots, Wisconsin governor Tony Evers declared an official State of Emergency and deployed the National Guard in order to disperse crowds.

Three days on from Blake’s shooting, the conflict continued to escalate in Kenosha, with a new group of ‘counter protestors’ emerging. The escalations reached a deadly conclusion when 17 year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, an active supporter of Blue Lives Matter and President Trump, opened fire on a group of protestors. While his lawyer claims that his actions were nothing more than self-defense, Rittenhouse currently faces charges of allegedly murdering Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, as well as injuring Gaige Grosskreutz. 

Clashes between racial justice protestors and Donald Trump supporters continued into the next week, although this time it was in Portland – the state where George Floyd was murdered – where tragedy struck once again. The day had begun with a convoy of hundreds of Trump supporters driving into the area, intending to counter Portland’s large BLM presence. This won praise from Trump on Twitter, however as night fell, those same counter-protestors would go on to engage in the type of conflict that he so hates. Tragically, another person would end up being fatally shot. This time however, the victim was a far-right protestor by the name of Aaron ‘Jay’ Danielson, an active member of the right wing Patriot Prayer group. 

The man who shot Danielson was later identified as Michael Reinoehl, a frequent attendee of racial justice protests in the area. It remains unclear what exactly led to Danielson’s shooting, but unusually, VICE were able to source an interview with Reinoehl before he was detained by police. 

Reinoehl explained his side of the story, saying, “You know, lots of lawyers suggest that I shouldn’t even be saying anything, but I feel it’s important that the world at least gets a little bit of what’s really going on. I had no choice. I mean, I, I had a choice. I could have sat there and watched them kill a friend of mine of colour. But I wasn’t going to do that.”

Eventually, a federal task force moved in to apprehend Reinoehl, but once again, the situation turned lethal. The 48 year-old activist was fatally shot by police after allegedly arming himself upon entering his own vehicle. At the time of writing, the details of his shooting are still unclear, but what remains evident is that the cracks in American society are still vast, and showing no signs of healing. 

Regardless of what side of the political spectrum they may gravitate towards, surely every American can agree that social unrest like this is unsustainable. One way or another, a meaningful change has to happen, but the question still remains as to whether that appetite for progress will be translated into action at polling stations this Winter.

James Bowers